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All About Uganda: Facts for Sponsors

If you sponsor — or are thinking about sponsoring — a child in Uganda, here are some facts to help you learn about this African nation, its land and its people.

Uganda is a landlocked country in East Africa bordered by South Sudan to the north, Kenya to the east, Tanzania and Rwanda to the south, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo to the west. Known as the Pearl of Africa, Uganda is home to the majestic, snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains and to Lake Victoria, the world’s largest tropical lake.

Roughly 35% of the land in Uganda is arable, or suitable for growing crops, and about 16% is set aside for national parks, game reserves and forests. Many species of wildlife — including gorillas, baboons, elephants, antelopes and lions — live within these protected areas.

Socially, Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, with a median age of 16.7 years. The nation also has one of the fastest growing populations, with a current fertility rate of 4.5 births per woman. In addition, Uganda is home to more than 1.5 million refugees, many fleeing war and persecution in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

About 16% of the land in Uganda is set aside for national parks, game reserves and forests.

Today, nearly 20% of the population of Uganda lives in chronic poverty. Since 2001, Holt has been working in Uganda to help serve vulnerable families and children, particularly those affected by HIV/AIDS. With the support of sponsors and donors, Holt has sought to keep families in crisis together by providing financial literacy programs for parents and health and nutrition programs for children.

In 2009, Holt initiated a sponsorship program, providing essential funding for basic nutrition, medical care, education and shelter for children in Uganda. Today, Holt sponsors and donors provide life-changing support for roughly 120,000 children and families — most of them living in rural villages near Kampala, the nation’s capital.   

Girl in Uganda in blue school uniform
Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world, with a median age of 16.7 years. The nation also has one of the fastest growing populations, with a current fertility rate of 4.5 births per woman.

Basic Facts

Capital

Kampala

Population

48.9 million people (est., 2022)

Official Language

More than 40 different native languages are spoken. English is the official language for government, education and commerce. In 2022, the Ugandan Cabinet approved Swahili as the second official language.

Area

93,065 square miles, slightly smaller than Oregon

Climate

Average temperatures range between 72°F and 92°F, depending on the region and season. Southern Uganda has two rainy seasons, March–May and October–November. The semiarid northeast experiences frequent droughts. Areas around Lake Victoria tend to be cooler, even in the dry season. The Rwenzori Mountains and the Kigezi Mountains in western Uganda are cold and misty most of the year.

Religion

Protestant, 45.1%; Roman Catholic, 39.3%; Muslim, 13.7%; other, 1.6%; none, 0.2%

Ethnic Groups

Baganda, 16.5%; Banyankole, 9.6%; Basoga, 8.8%; Bakiga, 7.1%; Iteso, 7%; Langi, 6.3%; Bagisu, 4.9%; Acholi, 4.4%; Lugbara, 3.3%; other, 32.1%

Type of Government

Presidential republic

A Day in the Life of Your Sponsored Child

Curious what daily life is like for a sponsored child in Uganda? In this video from 2017, you’ll follow Sophia, a 13-year-old girl who lives with her grandmother and four of her cousins in a small farming community in rural Uganda — a community that is still recovering from the HIV epidemic as well as years of brutal conflict.

National Celebrations

The population of Uganda is nearly 85% Christian and 14% Muslim, and religious holidays are celebrated widely throughout the country. Ugandans also commemorate days of social, historical and political importance each year.

On March 8, Ugandans celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). The nation is one of only 27 worldwide to observe IWD as a public holiday. On this day, the cultural, political and socioeconomic achievements of women are celebrated and issues of gender inequality are addressed. In Uganda, women leaders have spoken out about domestic violence, sexual abuse, poverty and the lack of educational opportunities for women.

On October 9, Ugandans celebrate Independence Day to mark their freedom from British rule in 1962. A national parade is held at the Kololo Ceremonial Grounds in Kampala. Local communities have their own festivities with traditional dance and food.

Ugandan Food & Drink

Ugandan cuisine is influenced by English, Arab and Asian (especially Indian) cuisines, and relies heavily on local produce including matoke (green bananas), sweet potatoes, corn, beans and cassava. Ugandan food is typically not spicy but seasoned with tomatoes and onions to create flavorful dishes. Each region of Uganda has its own unique cuisine, preparation methods and spices.

Women holding basket of food, green banana
Ugandan cuisine relies heavily on local produce such as matoke (green bananas), sweet potatoes, corn, beans and cassava.

Some common dishes include:

  • Matoke, steamed, mashed green bananas. Matoke is the national dish of Uganda.
  • Katogo, a breakfast dish made with matoke, vegetables, meat or any other desired ingredients added to a pan. The dish is often accompanied by a side of greens.
  • Luwombo, a stew made of beef, chicken or goat, then wrapped and cooked in banana leaves. Luwombo is usually served at holidays and other special occasions.
  • Muchomo, roasted meat
  • Binyebwa, a brown groundnut sauce served with many dishes
  • Posho, maize (corn) flour cooked with water to a dough-like consistency. Posho is often served with beans.
  • Rolex, eggs cooked with cabbage, onion, tomato and peppers, then wrapped in chapati (a flatbread)
  • Mandazi, a slightly sweet, deep-fried bread, which can be eaten as a snack with tea or freshly squeezed fruit juice, or as part of a meal

Mealtime Customs

  • Most Ugandans eat their meals at home. Rural Ugandans plant their own crops, while urban dwellers buy their food at the local market or supermarket.
  • People wash their hands in a basin of water before each meal.
  • Rural Ugandans generally eat lunch outside, either on a veranda or under a shady tree. Men are typically seated in chairs or at a table and served first. Women and children sit on mats nearby.
  • Ugandans eat dinner inside their homes in both rural and urban areas. Dinner often consists of a starchy staple, such as matoke or cassava, meat and vegetables. 
  • Rural dwellers typically eat from a common platter, using their right hand. Urban residents generally use individual plates.
  • Ugandans do not talk during a meal, as it is considered rude to speak while eating.

Social Concerns

Poverty

Nearly 20% of people in Uganda live in chronic poverty. Armed fighting among ethnic groups, a high infant mortality rate, poor access to medical care and pervasive HIV/AIDS have all placed additional stress on families. Many children in Uganda have lost one or both parents to conflict or HIV, leaving elderly grandparents or an older sibling to care for them.

three boys in Uganda carrying water jugs above heads
Poverty is most pervasive in the rural areas of Uganda, where roughly 75% of the population live.

Poverty is most pervasive in the rural areas of Uganda, where roughly 75% of the population live. According to Oxfam, 80% of rural dwellers — as compared to fewer than 30% of urban residents — live below the poverty line. Women are more vulnerable to poverty than men. In just one example of gender-based income inequality, women make up 73% of Uganda’s agricultural workforce but own only 7% of the land, affording them less economic stability. The Covid-19 pandemic has also had a greater impact on women’s finances than on men’s.

Learn how Holt donors and sponsors help strengthen families living in poverty and empower women and girls to become strong and independent!

Food Insecurity & Malnutrition

Many children go hungry in Uganda, especially in large families with minimal income and many mouths to feed. As a result, it’s all too common to see children who are stunted (too small for their age) or who show telltale signs of malnutrition, such as chronic sickness, skin infections or discolored skin and hair.

Today, almost one-third of Ugandan children under age 5 are stunted. Stunted growth is generally more common among children in rural areas (30%) than urban areas (24%), and among children born to mothers with no education.

Food prices throughout Uganda have risen due to inflation — directly affecting children and families in our programs.

In northeast Uganda, a prolonged drought has led to serious hunger issues. The United Nations World Food Program has reported that at least 518,000 people, or 40% of the region’s population, face high levels of food insecurity. Recently, more than 200 people — including children, lactating mothers and the elderly — died from hunger in one month.

While Holt primarily works in central Uganda, food prices throughout Uganda have risen due to inflation — directly affecting children and families in our programs. In May 2022, the cost of food soared by 11%, impacting Ugandans’ ability to afford staples, such as beans, corn and cassava, and other essentials.  

Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help address the nutrient deficiencies among children and pregnant women in rural Uganda.

Little boy in Cambodia

Rising Global Costs Endanger Children

Basic living costs have skyrocketed due to inflation, devastating children and families who were already living in poverty.

Teen Pregnancy & Child Marriage

Uganda has one of the fastest growing populations in the world, with a current fertility rate of 4.5 births per woman. The nation also has a high number of teen pregnancies, a problem exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and resulting school closures. (When schools are closed, young girls are more vulnerable to sexual violence and unintended pregnancies.) According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 650,000 teen pregnancies — or 32,000 pregnancies a month — were recorded between early 2020 and September 2021.

Covid-19 also led to an uptick in child marriages in Uganda. As families living in poverty face increased economic pressure and food insecurity, they’ll sometimes marry off their daughters to relieve their financial burdens. Each year, more than 34% of girls in Uganda are married before their 18th birthday, and 1 in 10 is married before turning 15.

Learn how Holt donors and sponsors help girls in developing countries stay safe from child marriage.

Education

In the late 1990s, the Ugandan government implemented a Universal Primary Education policy, which has allowed millions more children to attend school. But in the rural villages where Holt sponsors and donors support children, more than 30% of 6- to 9-year-olds have never had this opportunity.

Education in Uganda is expensive, and families living in poverty are unable to afford the cost of books, supplies, uniforms and other school fees. In rural areas, children often live miles away from the nearest school, making it difficult and sometimes unsafe to walk there. In addition, families who have multiple children will often prioritize educating their sons over their daughters if they can afford to send only one child to school. 

Education in Uganda is expensive, and families living in poverty are unable to afford the cost of books, supplies, uniforms and other school fees.

In Uganda today, girls have a lower literacy rate — and ultimately fewer economic opportunities — than boys. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, 72% of girls ages 10 and up are literate, as compared with 81% of boys. Literacy is defined as the ability to comprehend a short, simple sentence about everyday life.

Learn how Holt sponsors and donors help primary school and secondary school children in Uganda receive an education.  

Holt Donors Strengthen Families Through Financial Literacy Training

In the rural villages of Uganda where Holt sponsors and donors support children and families, Holt leads savings groups that teach parents, particularly mothers, how to earn money and save together. Through financial literacy training, these women are learning as a community how to make and sell goods, grow crops, buy and raise livestock, and become businesswomen in the hopes of bettering themselves and supporting their families.

With a small initial investment from Holt donors, these groups of women pool their money together and are able to take out loans from the group to grow their business or address an urgent need such as a home repair. They pay the money back on a schedule, thus replenishing the fund so other women can borrow as needed.

Learn how Holt donors help empower women in Uganda’s rural villages to build financial stability.

Women in the Mukono District Savings Group have saved nearly 4 million Ugandan shillings (a little over $1,000 USD) since October 2021.

Read more stories about how sponsors and donors help children thrive in Uganda.


Boy carrying crop in Uganda

Learn more about Holt’s work in Uganda!

See how sponsors and donors create a brighter, more hopeful future for children and families in Uganda!

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